Boys becoming men

I photographed a group of teenagers preparing for their homecoming dance tonight, and spent nearly all my time with just the boys. I got to witness a key social occasion in the lives of boys who are on the cusp of becoming men, and I was quite intrigued by it.

They all needed help getting dressed, both from one another and from the mothers and sisters who were in attendance. Tying ties, hitching suspenders, even threading belts posed challenges that only four hands working together simultaneously could solve. Some were meticulous about every detail and were dressed well ahead of time, while others arrived late and threw themselves together in a matter of seconds. They debated whether to wear their shirts in or out, and fortunately feminine wisdom prevailed and everybody tucked in.

They were boisterous and funny and really seemed to be enjoying themselves. One of the younger sisters said to one boy “ooh, you’re looking mighty fine.” And he responded with a twirl and a grin and said “why thank ya, I’m feeling mighty fine.” So cute.

Homecoming is a time for boys to practice a whole range of grownup behaviors: Dressing formally, buying and exchanging flowers, asking for and escorting a date, formal dining, and, of course, dancing. There’s a lot of pressure on the guys (and in high school, on their parents) to make the whole thing happen, from the flowers to the limo to the photographer to the dinner. All the girls really have to do is pick out a pretty dress and be ready on time (although, to be fair, I didn’t observe their preparation ritual so I could be wrong about this … and I, uh, have never attended a formal dance with a date other than my camera, so I really don’t know diddly about how the distaff side prepares).

When I was in high school, all my friends were continuously and enthusiastically interested in formal dances such as homecoming and prom, and we could not understand why nearly every boy in school was either blasé about or outright hostile to such occasions. It was so very, very important to us–how could the guys not care? But now I understand better how challenging it is on their side, and how a boy might feel he’s not ready for all that responsibility at one time.

When the Hummer stretch limo arrived, though, the boys were ecstatic; it was a huge hit. They grabbed their corsages and bouquets, piled in and headed off across town to pick up their dates. I trust they are still dancing the night away even as I write this.



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